DutchNews podcast – The Commercial Breakdown Edition – Week 50

Photomontage featuring Mark Rutte and Theresa May sitting at opposite ends of a breakfast table adorned with peanut butter, sliced bread, cheese and chocolate sprinkles, with four television screens showing Dutch commercials above and a golden Buddha statue below.

Our last podcast of the year features a helter-skelter game of red cards, own goals and penalties that ultimately changed nothing, while away from the Brexit negotiations Ajax qualified for the next round of the Champions League. We ask why girls are more likely to move up the educational ladder then boys, whether stints will ever be allowed back on cycle paths and why a group of Chinese villagers were told to Buddha off by a Dutch court. In the discussion we look at the catchiest – and the most irritating – adverts in the Netherlands and how they have affected cultural life. TOP STORY Rutte has May for breakfast as EU rules out reopening Brexit deal MPs denounce no-deal emergency powers bill as undemocratic NEWS Electric 'stint' wagons still not allowed back on cycle paths Girls more likely than boys to move up secondary school ladder Dutch court throws out Chinese villagers' claim on Buddha statue Boyan Slat says ocean clean-up plan is still on despite setback SPORT Ajax settle for second in Champions League group after six-goal thriller The Hague bids to host Tour de France start in 2020 DISCUSSION: The best – and worst – Dutch adverts Twelve Dutch ads that have become cultural touchstones    More >

Change child refugee rules: coalition MPs

Refugees at Ter Apel Three of the four Dutch coalition parties are now in favour of changes to the amnesty for well-rooted child refugees, saying the current situation is 'untenable'. Some 400 children, many of whom were born in the Netherlands, are currently threatened with deportation because they don't meet the terms of the amnesty, which was established in 2013. Campaigners and child rights groups say the rules - including the proviso that refugees cooperate with efforts to deport them - make it almost impossible to qualify. Very few children have benefited from the amnesty in the past five years. The Christian Democrats and D66 launched their campaign for change in interviews with the Dutch media on Saturday, and ChristenUnie leader Gert-Jan Segers then twittered his support. Dit is welkom. Meer dan welkom. pic.twitter.com/CQLCGH4IvP — Gert-Jan Segers (@gertjansegers) January 19, 2019 'We recognise that the situation is not sustainable,' CDA parliamentarian Madeleine van Toorenburg told Radio 1 news. Currently, missing a meeting with the immigration service can be enough to show that the family has not cooperated, she said in the AD. She said the two parties were now calling for change following the publication of a report by 38 professors which said children faced with deportation undergo extreme stress. Majority support The change of heart means there is now majority support in parliament for a rethink, broadcaster NOS said. The coalition parties want junior immigration minister Mark Harbers to go through all 400 cases on the 'reject' pile  and use his discretionary powers to grant them the right to stay. Harbers, a member of the fourth coalition party, the VVD, told the NOS on Saturday afternoon that he had set up an independent commission to look at all aspects of the problem. 'It is no secret that there are different thoughts about this subject within the coalition,' he said. 'That is why we have made agreements and they are in the coalition accord. That is my guide.' Coalition agreement The VVD has always resisted changes to the amnesty rules. Prime minister Mark Rutte, also from the VVD, has not yet commented on the change of heart by his coalition partners but VVD parliamentarian Malik Azmani said that 'everyone is free to think what they like'. 'We assume that the agreements made in the coalition agreement will be respected,' his spokesman told the AD. Petition Television presenter Tim Hofman, who has gathered over 250,000 signatures on a petition calling for a rethink, said: 'The CDA has woken up. Godamm, what good news, unbelievable.' Hofman was spurred into action following attempts to deport two Armenian children to Armenia, even though they had never lived there and did not speak the language. Howick and Lili were eventually granted residency rights.  More >

Medicine shortages continue to rise

Medicine shortages reached a new record level in 2018, continuing a growing trend that dates back to the start of the decade. The pharmacists' umbrella body KNMP said 769 medicines were unavailable at some stage during the year, including 128 treatments that were taken out of circulation altogether. The figure has been rising steadily since 2010, when fewer than 200 medicines were affected. The organisation blamed the shortages on measures by the government to keep prices low and a preferential pricing system introduced by insurers. But health insurers said the preferential model, under which pharmaceutical companies submit tenders to produce out-of-patent medicines, was not the main cause. 'In the vast majority of cases the shortages concern medicines outside the preferential system,' said a spokesman for umbrella body Zorgverzekeraars Nederland. Under the tendering process insurers will only cover the cost of the cheapest version on offer. One of the most high-profile stock shortages in 2018 concerned the most commonly prescribed contraceptive pills, including Mycrogynon 30, which is taken by around 1.2 million women. A large batch of the pills was destroyed in September because it failed safety tests, though the competitive tendering process was also cited as a factor. Patients who take the drug Levodopa for Parkinson's disease were affected by production problems at the manufacturer. Although alternative drugs are available, the switch was likely to have a negative impact on the patient's functioning. Other categories of medicine where shortages were experienced included drugs to control epilepsy, which were out of stock on 19 occasions, as well as treatments for eye conditions and antibiotics, according to the KNMP. A spokesman for public health minister Bruno Bruins told NOS that the government recommended health insurers keep a three to four months' supply of all drugs in stock. He claimed that this would prevent around 60% of shortages.    More >

Dutch government faces a busy year

The 'yellow vest' protest movement may have failed to take off in the Netherlands so far, but the Dutch government does face a number of challenges in 2019 - not least of all two important elections. Support for the four coalition parties is down sharply on March 2017, when the current government was elected, and the cabinet is unlikely to have a majority in the upper house of parliament after this year's provincial and senate votes. This, commentators say, make it all the more important that the government start delivering tangible results in 2019. 'Up to now, the lack of results can be explained by the need to gather widespread support ... but that excuse becomes less actual, the longer the cabinet has been in office,' wrote Trouw in an editorial on Monday. 'There is no time to lose for this cabinet.' NOS political correspondent Ron Frensen says that 2019 is the year in which the cabinet must make real progress and tackle issues such as climate change and bogus self-employment which have provided ministers with headaches this year. 'This is an election year in which citizens must finally benefit from economic growth,' wrote Elsevier in its last issue of the year. 'But while the energy transition still has to begin, the coalition is already worried about rising energy bills. Will ministers opt for Paris or the middle class?' The main issues on the political agenda in 2019 Coping with the shortage of skilled workers: The Dutch unemployment rate has fallen below 4% and some sectors of the economy are suffering from a serious shortage of staff. The construction sector in particular has been hard hit - threatening plans to build tens of thousands of new homes. Several primary schools have introduced a four-day week because of the shortage of teachers. Reforming the pension system: talks between unions and employers on reforming the Dutch pension system broke down in November and social affairs minister Wouter Koolmees is now coming up with his own plan. Experts believe that the Dutch pension system – a combination of a state pension (AOW) and corporate pension schemes – needs to be reformed because the aging population is putting more pressure on the current pension system and pension funds are having to pay out to more people for longer. Stamping out fake self-employment: The cabinet was not successful in efforts to stamp out bogus self-employment in 2018 - a strategy often used by companies to employ people on freelance contracts without holiday and pension rights. New proposals are on the cards in 2019. Plans to introduce a system whereby freelancer contracts which include a low hourly rate are automatically turned into a regular contracts – if they run for more than three months - have fallen foul of EU legislation. Boosting the financial security of freelancers: As yet there is no agreement on whether freelancers should be required by law to contribute to a pension scheme or disability insurance scheme. The government has commissioned research on the pros and cons in 2019. Tackling climate change and reducing the use of natural gas: the five working parties coming up with proposals to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the Netherlands finally published their plans on December 21. The plans were immediately slammed by critics for giving industry and easy ride and making tax payers pick up the bill. Even economic affairs minister Eric Wiebes, who is in charge of the process, has said the agreement is ‘not definitive’ but an ‘important first step’. In particular, the decision to phase out the use of natural gas in private homes has come under fire at a time when the Netherlands' neighbouring countries are upping their use of gas. Opening Lelystad airport: Plans to open Lelystad airport to commercial air traffic took further knocks in 2018 and this is now unlikely to happen in 2020 as planned. It is becoming 'increasingly complicated', transport minister Cora van Nieuwenhuizen said last month. European and provincial elections: Elections for the 12 provincial governments take place on March 20 - provincial councillors will then elect the senate on May 27 and it is very unclear whether or not the government will be able to cling on to its majority. In particular, right wing newcomer Forum voor Democracie, is likely to win seats from the established parties. The European elections take place on May 23. The Netherlands currently has 26 seats but this will go up to 29 in May. The total number of seats in the European parliament will be cut from 751 to 701 after the election, because of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU.  More >

Asylum campaign group returns from Greece

Refugee children on the Syrian border. Dutch campaigners who drove overland to Greece to pick up 150 refugees from the country's refugee camps are returning back to the Netherlands empty handed. Organiser Rikko Voorberg from the We Gaan Ze Halen (We will bring them back) group told Dutch radio that the Greek authorities did not respond to requests for a meeting. They had planned to bring the refugees back to the Netherlands in a fleet of some 30 cars. ‘We have always said we hoped for a miracle and it did not happen,’ Voorberg said. ‘What has happened is that the relocation of refugees is back at the top of the political agenda.’ Junior immigration minister Mark Harders said before the group left for Greece that any refugees they picked up would be sent back because they have to request asylum in the first European country they arrive in.   More >